As the horror genre becomes ever more mainstream, we here at The A.V. Club imagine that there are more of you than ever looking for something creepy to watch this Halloween season. And with streaming services on a similar upward cultural trajectory, we’re guessing that many, if not most, of you won’t be watching that something creepy on cable. So with a little more than two weeks left until the big night itself, we’ve compiled a list of 31 recommended horror movies that, we hope, includes something for everyone, from the easily scared to the most jaded horror lover.
This year, we’ve bypassed add-ons like Showtime and HBO Go/Now and concentrated on films that can be streamed on the big three services—Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime—with no additional fees. That being said, we’ve also included two specialty services, FilmStruck and Shudder, that each have something special to offer. Each service has its benefits: Netflix has the most recent horror movies, many of them Netflix originals, while Hulu has an eclectic, more curated selection. Amazon Prime’s back catalog of obscure horror films from the 1970s and ’80s, meanwhile, is literally hundreds of pages deep. As for the specialty services, Shudder is our choice for the newbie horror fan looking to catch up on the essentials, and FilmStruck’s selection prioritizes atmospherics over gore and jump scares and is a good choice for the horror-phobic.
Note that this year’s streaming guide is entirely different from last year’s, and many—but not all—of the titles we recommended last October are still available on their respective services. You can check that out at this link.
Safely explore the mindset of those who are really into haunted houses—or, as they call them, “haunts”—without actually having to experience one in this 2017 documentary profiling people who live for freaking out their friends and neighbors with DIY haunted houses, some of them extreme enough to require waivers. Director Jon Schnitzer turns an affectionate yet skeptical eye to this sometimes hard-to-understand subculture, similar in tone to The King Of Kong: A Fistful Of Quarters.
Stephen King’s not a fan of Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 adaptation of his novel The Shining, but we have to respectfully disagree. Kubrick’s adaptation is precisely shot, stunningly acted, and full of nightmare imagery that will stick with you for the rest of your life. If you’ve never seen it, you need to rectify that immediately, if only so the middle third of Ready Player One makes more sense. If you’ve seen it before, watch the documentary Room 237, then watch it again.
With its deceptively simple premise, sound internal logic, and skillful execution, the South Korean zombies-on-a-train flick Train To Busan (2016) has all the makings of a future horror classic. One of our best films of that year that we didn’t review, writer-director Yeon Sang-ho’s film has already spawned both an animated prequel and an upcoming live-action sequel. See it now, before the inevitable English-language remake.
Also released in 2016, like Train To Busan, Under The Shadow uses horror-movie imagery as a vehicle for subversive political commentary. Unlike Train To Busan, however, the emotional core of this deeply affecting, occasionally heart-stopping female-driven ghost story is so specific to life in Iran that an English-language remake wouldn’t do it justice.
Australian director Sean Byrne’s follow-up to his instant cult classic The Loved Ones caters to parents who love horror movies and heavy metal, a demographic that’s larger than you might think. Although it has its moments, The Devil’s Candy (2015) is only a sporadically terrifying film. But its themes are so dark—think child serial murder—and its are references catered so specifically to horror and heavy-metal fans that it’s best enjoyed by those already steeped in one (or both) of those subcultures.
This 2012 debut feature from British director Peter Strickland (The Duke Of Burgundy, In Fabric) is ostensibly about a sound engineer (Toby Jones) who loses his grip on reality while working on a particularly gruesome horror film. But really, it’s about sound. Audiophiles will find Berberian Sound Studio’s fussy fixation on knob-twisting and magnetic tape practically orgasmic, and cinephiles will appreciate its skewering of the lurid conventions of Italian B-horror. The horror-averse can get a vicarious thrill from hearing all the ominous music and vicious sound effects of a horror movie, while finding comfort in knowing that really, it’s just a man stabbing cabbages. Things do get lightly creepy and intensely surreal in the last 20 minutes, however.
Tragedy Girls (2017) is another film that plays with the conventions of the horror genre in a way that celebrates and skewers them at the same time—or, as Alex McLevy put it in his review, it’s “a warped funhouse mirror reflection of society that blends camp and satire in equal measure.” Alexandra Shipp (X-Men: Apocalypse’s Storm) and Brianna Hildebrand (Deadpool’s Negasonic Teenage Warhead) star as best friends obsessed with gaining new followers for their true-crime Twitter account—even if it means making the bodies themselves. Note that although the film is too tongue-in-cheek to be truly frightening, it is bloody, and features a few gruesome gore scenes.
Brian de Palma’s adaptation of Stephen King’s novel about telekinetic teenage outcast Carrie White is among the best film adaptations of King’s work, a sensitively drawn portrait from a director not exactly known for those. Both Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie were nominated for Academy Awards for their roles as Carrie and Margaret White, and the film’s fiery climax is just as effective in 2018 as it was in 1976—as is the famed final scare, which we don’t dare spoil here. [Also available on Amazon Prime.]
For sheer intensity, it’s hard to beat the original Rec (2007), which brilliantly utilizes the found-footage genre to bring a sense of genuine surprise to its many startling scares. The story is a unique-for-the-time blend of the zombie and possession subgenres, following a reality-TV camera crew as they accompany a group of firefighters on a seemingly innocent call to a Barcelona apartment building. As you may have already inferred, the call is less than innocent, and the crew must fight its way out of a building overrun with residents infected with one of those zombie rage viruses that were all the rage in the 2000s.
Adrian Lyne’s hallucinogenic horror film Jacob’s Ladder (1990) has been enjoying a low-key resurgence among genre aficionados since debuting on streaming earlier this year. Lots of horror movies use hallucinations and dream sequences as vehicles for disturbing imagery, but few put you in the mindset of a person experiencing a schizophrenic episode as well as this one. Tim Robbins stars as Jacob, a Vietnam veteran plagued by terrifying visions he believes are the result of a secret military experiment performed on him and his platoon mates during the war.
Along with Hounds Of Love (also streaming on Hulu) and Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer (streaming on Amazon Prime), 2013’s Simon Killer belongs to a small and very specific group of serial-killer dramas so brutally realistic, they cross the line into horror. It’s a type of horror that’s too bleak and amoral for most people to sit through, let alone enjoy, and Simon Killer has the added alienation factor of also being told from a highly subjective first-person point of view. But if you like a challenge, it’s out there, waiting.
If it was truly possible to kill with charm, this 2014 horror-comedy would leave an impressive trail of bodies in its wake. Co-starring two of New Zealand’s most charismatic exports—Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi, who also both direct—What We Do In The Shadows applies the same self-depreciating wit to vampire lore as Waititi brought to the Marvel universe in Thor: Ragnarok. Extremely quotable, only slightly bloody, and frequently laugh-out-loud funny, it’s a perfect Halloween flick for the horror-averse.
Hardcore herpetophobics excepted, the scariest thing about this low-rent rip-off of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds is the family of rich Southern assholes at its center. A staple of bad-movie nights since the ’90s, Frogs (1972) features a young Sam Elliott as the wildlife photographer whose warnings of ecological disaster go predictably unheeded. And, despite its title, Frogs has more people complaining about frogs than actual frogs—all the film’s killings are carried out by non-frog swamp fauna, as is frequently (and gleefully) noted by critics.
A noted epicurean and art lover, Vincent Price was perhaps the 20th century’s most sophisticated horror star. But he wasn’t above a little gimmickry every once in a while, either. Price’s 1959 hit House On Haunted Hill similarly blends an old-fashioned (and very mild, by today’s standards) Gothic chiller with director William Castle’s signature campy stunts: The film opens with Price’s floating head addressing the audience, inviting them to a droll little party. “There will be food and drink and ghosts, and perhaps even a few murders. You’re all invited,” he says. Both the black-and-white and colorized versions of House On Haunted Hill are streaming on Prime—and are not to be confused with the Netflix series The Haunting Of Hill House, which is much more intense.
Even if it sucked, Dan O’Bannon’s The Return Of The Living Dead (1985) would still mark a significant moment in zombie-movie history: The first time an undead flesh-eater croaked out its hunger for “braaaaaaaaaaaaaains.” Luckily for us, the film is more than just a footnote. Colorful, campy, and told with more energy than a club full of pogo-dancing punks, it’s also a ton of fun. ’80s scream queen Linnea Quigley and ’60s Western star Clu Gulager star in this tale of a crew of smartass punk rockers who do battle with goopy, gory zombies while partying in a cemetery late one night.
Both the 1976 cult-classic slasher The Town That Dreaded Sundown and its 2014 remake are available for streaming on Amazon Prime, for a horror double feature that will be of special interest to true-crime buffs and American Horror Story fans. The original Town That Dreaded Sundown epitomizes the amoral opportunism of ’70s exploitation filmmaking, dramatizing a series of unsolved serial murders in a gritty, pseudo-documentary style and then plastering its posters with the tagline, “In 1946, this man killed five people... today he still lurks the streets of Texarkana!” Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s remake, meanwhile, plays off of the first film’s reputation for a meta breakdown of the slasher genre fitting of Gomez-Rejon’s background as a director on American Horror Story.
Carrie inspired its share of imitators. All successful horror movies do. That’s how the world came to be gifted with Evilspeak, a 1981 techno-paranoiac occult fright flick starring Clint Howard. Howard plays a painfully awkward cadet at a military boarding school who’s basically a male Carrie White, except his powers come from a Satanic computer possessed by an evil monk who thirsts for human blood. (Yes, you read that correctly.) Evilspeak drags throughout much of its running time—all the scenes that don’t involve Satanic computers, basically—but pays off with a blasphemous, bonkers finale.
Not to be confused with the 2005 English-language remake with Jennifer Connelly, Hideo Nakata’s original Dark Water (2002) is now streaming after years of obscurity. The J-horror boom of the ’90s and early ’00s produced some extremely creepy ghost stories, and Dark Water—about a divorced mom who begins seeing the ghost of a little girl in the hallways of her apartment building in the midst of a nasty custody battle with her ex—is one of the creepiest, and saddest, of them all. It also presages the current wave of horror movies about motherhood, premiering in Japanese theaters 12 years before The Babadook. [Also available on Shudder.]
Aficionados of the obscure are probably already aware that there exists a large and stupefying catalog of Turkish rip-offs of popular American movies, appropriating everything from The Wizard Of Oz to The Exorcist. But did you know that the latter of those examples, Seytan: The Exorcism Incident (1974), is available on Amazon Prime? Marvel at a shot-by-shot remake of one of the most terrifying films ever made, sapped of all of its tension by bad acting, worse editing, and the cheapest makeup effects this side of your local Party City.
Made at the tail end of the screwball comedy’s classic era, I Married A Witch (1942) is a light, bubbly little potion from French director René Clair starring Veronica Lake as Jennifer, a witch burned at the stake back in the colonial era. Freed from the tree where she’s been imprisoned for centuries, Jennifer seeks vengeance against the magistrates who executed her and her father using a screwball heroine’s best weapon—romance under false pretenses. Does she end up falling under her own spell? Let’s put it this way: In magic, whatever you put out comes back to you threefold.
So, it’s atmosphere you want? Georges Franju’s poetic, lightly surreal French horror classic Eyes Without A Face (1960) has plenty of it. Starring Pierre Brasseur as a plastic surgeon whose guilt over disfiguring his daughter in a car accident sparks a grotesque obsession with face transplants, the film is chilling without relying on jump scares. And although the film was quite gory for its time, the surgery scenes are less haunting than the image of the surgeon’s daughter, Christiane (Edith Scob), her eyes glittering with tears behind an expressionless white mask.
Guillermo del Toro’s style emerged more or less fully formed in his debut feature, Cronos (1993). Dark fairytale vibes? Check. A romantic take on a classic monster (in this case, vampires)? Check. Just enough blood and effects makeup to make clear that although this movie features a kid, it’s very much not for children? Check. Hell, even Hellboy himself, Ron Perlman, is there, as the reluctant fixer for an eccentric millionaire obsessed with eternal life.
Canada’s unofficial prime minister of fright has more explicit movies, but Dead Ringers (1988) is David Cronenberg at his twisted best. A more restrained and “mature” work for the director after the all-out splatter of The Fly (1986), Dead Ringers stars Jeremy Irons in a dual role as arrogant identical twin gynecologists whose drug-fueled sexual escapades drive them over the edge. The film sits at the intersection of Alfred Hitchcock and American Psycho, elegantly combining a medical thriller, creepy-twin horror, and Cronenberg’s signature psychosexual depravity. [Also available on Shudder.]
Kitschy and creepy in equal measure, Tourist Trap (1979) is a rare example of a PG-rated slasher movie, relatively light on violence and completely free of the gratuitous nudity common in other horror movies of its era. What it lacks in sex and gore it makes up in atmosphere, taking place at a bizarre roadside attraction where nearly every surface is covered with mannequins, automatons, and every other unsettlingly dead-eyed type of doll you can possibly imagine.
This is it. A stone-cold horror classic, and the movie that, if you’ve never seen it, should be at the very top of your October watchlist. John Carpenter took on the project—a throwaway B-movie code-named The Babysitter Murders—as a director for hire, and executed it with such a masterful level of directorial craft that it broke box-office records and launched a franchise. It’s equally effective even after multiple viewings, so if you haven’t seen it in a while, watch it again.
Shudder’s selection of horror classics is strong this year; as well as Halloween, mentioned above, it’s also currently streaming Sam Raimi’s original The Evil Dead and Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. Once you’ve seen those, the next step is to watch Don Coscarelli’s Phantasm (1979), an eerie, dreamlike landmark in independent horror filmmaking presented here in a beautifully restored version bankrolled by J.J. Abrams and his Bad Robot company.
Despite its arch tone and cameos from John Waters and Traci Lords, Excision (2012), starring AnnaLynne McCord as an outcast teenager with a scornful disregard for personal hygiene and a sexually charged obsession with amateur surgery, could only be called a comedy by the sickest of minds. Don’t let that scare you off, though—as long as you can stomach a little blood, this deranged teen horror film is a stunner.
Winner of the best horror film award at this year’s Fantastic Fest, Terrified hit Shudder last week, and is already the streaming service’s most popular title of all time. In the film, director Demián Rugna takes the basic ghost-hunter premise and merciless intensity of The Conjuring movies and escalates them on every conceivable level, upgrading from a haunted house to a haunted neighborhood. Yes, it’s full of jump scares. But they’re jump scares so diabolically clever, they’re all but guaranteed to elicit a primitive reaction in even the most jaded of viewers. If you like this one, Shudder also recently added Satan’s Slaves, an Indonesian haunted-house film with a similar rollercoaster sensibility that our own Alex McLevy called “one of the most entertaining haunted-house films since the original Conjuring” in his festival review.
Feminist grindhouse oddity The Witch That Came From The Sea (1976) is one of the 72 films on the U.K.’s infamous “video nasties” censorship list, but not for its brutal violence (which it has) or disturbing themes of sexual assault (which it also has). It was considered too risqué for impressionable young minds because it dares to depict the harrowing psychological aftermath of trauma and abuse from the victim’s perspective. That’s still pretty nasty, if you ask some people.
For more than a decade, the only way you could see Ghostwatch, arguably the most successful Halloween prank since Orson Welles’ War Of The Worlds broadcast, was on a 10th-generation dub from someone who happened to tape it during its one and only BBC broadcast on Halloween of 1992. A faux-investigative report about a haunting in a London home that goes horrifyingly off the rails, Ghostwatch—which aired without a disclaimer—mimicked a real news broadcast so effectively, it traumatized half of England. And even if you know it’s fake, Ghostwatch is still scary as hell, a testament to the wicked ingenuity of its creators.
You really want to watch this, huh? You sure? Okay, well, the uncut version of Olaf Ittenbach’s rightfully infamous, absolutely depraved 1992 shot-on-video gore movie is now streaming on Shudder, with every grainy frame of viscera-drenched sadism intact. Have at it, if you must.